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53 Years With Little to No Change in Police Brutality's Devastating Effects on Black Women

Police brutality and the damaging effects it has had on the Black communities is not a new development in American policing by any means. These outward acts of discrimination and violence committed by law enforcement have a longstanding history in this country, but conversations surrounding police brutality tend to leave out a very important aspect of the issue. Black women are also being affected by police brutality and it is important to draw attention to the ways in which their lives continue to be harmed.

Source: Michigan Chronicle

On July 5th, 1963, Cynthia Scott was walking down the street when she was accosted by Detroit Police Department patrol officer Theodore Spicher. He attempted to arrest her without cause, and when she rightfully refused to get into his police car, he became agitated with the situation and shot her twice thus ending her life. Cynthia was a 24 year old African American woman who just happened to be walking down the street with Charles Marshall, a crucial witness to these events, when her interaction with two white patrol officers resulted in her life ending. Charles Marshall’s account of these events are quite different from those of Spicher and his partner’s, and we later find out that the evidence found at the scene also does not support the word of these two officers.

As the investigation into this case of police brutality continued, it was uncovered that there was a coverup on the part of DPD and the county in which this crime occured. To no one’s surprise after learning this, the shooting by Spicher was ruled a justifiable homicide by the county prosecutor and he faced no real consequences for his actions. The fact that Cynthia’s occupation involved prostitution was used to justify and explain way her death. However, the killing of Cynthia Scott by Theodore Spicher led to a major escalation of the anti-police brutality movement in Detroit. One week after the incident, on the day the county prosecutor made their ruling, around 2,500 African Americans joined a demonstration at the DPD's downtown headquarters to protest police violence. Unfortunately, the Black community's voices were not heard and we are still seeing Black women being killed by law enforcement today.

Source: The New York Times

Fast forwarding to the 21st century, issues of police brutality against Black women and law enforcement refusing to take responsibility for their actions is just as present as it was in 1963. On October 18th, 2016, Deborah Danner, a 66 year old African American woman who suffered from schizophrenia, was shot and killed in her apartment by Sargent Barry of the NYPD. Police officers showed up to Deborah’s apartment after a neighbor called 911 saying that she was acting erratically. Originally, it seemed as the interaction between Deborah and the police would end peacefully as they had been to her apartment before and had familiarity with her. When Sergeant Barry walked into her bedroom, Barry states that she was holding a pair of scissors and he tried to convince her to put them down but she apparently then proceeded to pick up a baseball bat and swing at him. Barry then shot at her twice fatally wounding and killing her.

However, according to EMTs present at the scene, she had put down the scissors and she had never picked up a bat. Similar to Cynthia Scott's case, we see a pattern of contrasting accounts of white police officers' excessive use of force with Black women and witnesses present at the scene. One difference we see here in Deborah's case is that Sergeant Barry was arrested and charged with second-degree murder on May 31st, 2017. But in the most American fashion possible, Barry had chosen to have his case decided by a judge instead of a jury and the judge ruled that Barry was innocent of all charges brought against him. Once again, we see our courts systems protect police officers that have killed innocent people while failing to bring justice and closure to victims of police brutality and their loved ones.

Both of these cases demonstrate that Black women are being harmed and killed by law enforcement as well and it is important that they stay at the forefront of conversations about police brutality alongside Black men. Cynthia Scott’s and Deborah Danner’s case both stood out to me because they both belonged to groups of people that tend to be especially disregarded by law enforcement: prostitutes and individuals dealing with mental health issues. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding them is used to naturalize what happens to them and they are not afforded the appropriate protections they should be. Though this is not unique to just these two cases, it’s clear that crucial eyewitnesses in both cases directly contradicted what police officers claimed to have happened and it demonstrates that law enforcement is unwilling to acknowledge their racist tendencies when dealing with Black individuals. We have yet to see much, if any, improvements in terms of police brutality in our country. Cynthia and Deborah both deserved better from officers that are supposed to protect our communities and I hope that advocacy efforts such as #SayHerName help to bring much deserved attention to the hurt being felt by Black women in our country.

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